Airborn (novel)

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Oppel - Airborn Coverart.png
Airborn first edition cover.
Author Kenneth Oppel
Cover artist Peter Riddihoff
Country Canada
Language English
Series Matt Cruse series
Genre Fantasy, Alternate history novel, Steampunk
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
February 5, 2004
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 321 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-0-00-200537-1
OCLC 53162914
Followed by Skybreaker

Airborn is a 2004 young adult novel by Kenneth Oppel. Often recognized as steampunk,[1] the novel is set in an alternate history where the airplane has not been invented, and instead, airships are the primary form of air transportation. Additionally, the world contains fictional animal species such as flying creatures, which live their entire lives in the sky. The book takes place aboard a transoceanic luxury passenger airship, the Aurora, and is told from the perspective of its cabin boy, Matt Cruse.

Plot summary[edit]

Fourteen-year-old Matt Cruse is a cabin boy for the Aurora, an airship that stays afloat using a gas called "hydrium". While on lookout duty, he spots a damaged balloon carrying an unconscious old man. Matt saves the man, whose name is Benjamin Malloy, only to have him die shortly after being taken aboard. His last words ramble about "beautiful creatures" that he supposedly saw on his ill-fated voyage.

One year later, Matt leaves his home in Lionsgate City to accompany the Aurora on its voyage to Sydney, Australia. Despite loving his mother and sisters dearly, Matt is relieved to be in the air where he feels closest to his father — a former sailmaker who died in an accident aboard the Aurora. Matt is disappointed to learn that the Junior Sailmaker position he was promised has been given to the airship fleet's heir, Bruce Lunardi. One day into the voyage, an ornithopter delivers two passengers to the ship: Kate de Vries and her chaperone Marjorie Simpkins. Kate tells Matt that she is Benjamin Malloy's granddaughter and shows him detailed drawings of flying panther-like creatures from Malloy's journal. Intrigued by the possibility that they live their whole lives in the air, Kate reveals that she is on a mission to prove that such creatures are real.

A few nights later, the ship is raided by a notorious criminal named Vikram Szpirglas. His gang of pirates plunder the ship of all valuables and kill the chief wireless officer. The pirates proceed to leave, but both ships are caught in a storm. The pirate vessel crashes with the Aurora and tears the Aurora's hull, seriously depleting its supply of hydrium. As the sailmakers scramble to repair the falling Aurora, Matt spots an island and the crew steers toward it. The ship crash lands on the island, which Kate realizes is the island from her grandfather's journal. Kate convinces Matt to help her explore the island where they discover the skeleton of a large winged creature. A few minutes later, they find an injured member of the same species which they decide to call a "cloud cat".

Miss Simpkins tries to lock Kate in her room for associating with Matt. As the repairs near completion, Kate drugs her and takes one last chance to photograph the island's wildlife. Matt and Bruce begin looking for her until Bruce suffers a bite on his leg from a cloud cat. Matt is able to find Kate, but the two of them stumble upon the pirates, who had set up a secret base on the secluded island. Unrecognized, they ask for shelter in the pirate camp and make a plan to sneak away during the night. During their escape, Kate and Matt are apprehended and thrown into a hydrium pit where there is no oxygen. They use Kate's harem pants as a balloon to lift themselves to ground level as Szpirglas' crew sets out to silence the passengers of the Aurora. Kate begins crying in the forest, blaming herself for putting everyone else in danger. Acting on the feelings he has developed for her, Matt kisses her. She asks him to kiss her again, and stops crying.

Once Kate and Matt find Bruce, the three make their way to the Aurora, which is being held hostage by eight pirates. They are able to undo the landing lines and cause the ship to take off. Matt's innate knowledge of the flight system allows them to temporarily take control and steer the ship away from the island. After tending to Bruce's wounds in the infirmary, Matt brings a sleeping elixir to the cook so that it can be added to the pirates' soup. Szpirglas' crew murders Bruce in the engine room and chases Matt onto the hull of the Aurora in open air. Szpirglas pushes Matt off the edge but Matt is able to grab hold of the ship's tail fin. Before attempting to dislodge Matt again, Szpirglas is attacked by a group of cloud cats and is thrown into the sea. The passengers are saved when Matt steers the Aurora back on course.

Six months later, Matt meets Kate in Paris, where she is exhibiting her cloud cat skeleton and photographs. Matt reveals that he will attend the Airship Academy, with the help of the reward money for finding Szpirglas' base of operations. Kate's plans to begin her zoology studies at a university. The novel ends with them holding hands.


  • Matt Cruse: The cabin boy on the Aurora and the crow's nest watchman when the novel begins. Longing to support his sisters in Lionsgate city, he has been promised a position as an apprentice sailmaker as soon as one becomes available.
  • Kate de Vries: The scientifically minded granddaughter of the alleged discoverer of "cloud cats". Approximately fifteen years of age, she is stubborn and adventurous much to the dismay of her chaperone Marjorie Simpkins.
  • Bruce Lunardi: The heir to a successful airship line which owns the Aurora. Consigned to the ship during his late teens, he unintentionally deprives Matt of the sailmaker position.
  • Captain Walken: The captain of the Aurora who serves as a mentor to Matt.
  • Baz: Another cabin boy on the Aurora who is in the same cabin as Matt Cruse. He is Matt Cruse's partner.
  • Szipirglas: Captain of pirates who attacked the Aurora and made a leak of gas in the Aurora.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

  • The book originally was being adapted into a film, to be directed by Stephen Sommers. Thomas Dean Donnelly adapted the screenplay. However, in 2008, Oppel indicated that the project has been dropped.[11]
  • Announced on March 19, 2012, Halifax Films and Michael Donovan have teamed up and have optioned the book for film. Oppel has been hired to write the preliminary script and will be an executive producer.[12]

Publication history[edit]

Airborn was first released in Canada in February 2004. It was shortly followed with its release in the United Kingdom and the United States in April and May 2004 respectively. Below is the release details for the first edition hardback and paperback copies in these three publication regions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Airborn by Kenneth Oppel". Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Past Recipients Prizes Section Governor General's Literary Awards". Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Pereira, Diana (15 November 2004). "Airborn, Jabberwocky win children's literature awards". The Globe and Mail. Phillip Crawley. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". Young Adult Library Services Association. American Library Association. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Stevenson, Deborah. "2004 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Nutmeg Children's Book Award – 2007 Nominees
  7. ^ "2007 Master List" (PDF). Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award. Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "Red Maple Award". The Canadian Children's Book Centre. The Canadian Children's Book Centre. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards Award Recipients 1976 – 2012". Ontario Arts Foundation. Ontario Arts Foundation. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Page, Liz. "IBBY Honor List 2006". Australian Literature Online. International Board on Books for Young People. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  11. ^ Walker, Morley (2008-09-28). "Interview with an Author: Oppel's simple advice: write about your passion". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
  12. ^ Kenneth, Oppel (2012-03-19). "Kenneth Oppel: Airborn The Movie: Take Two". Kenneth Oppel's Blog. Retrieved 2013-11-12. 

External links[edit]